Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of What to Send Up When It Goes Down
Director Matthew Gardiner is very concerned with delineating character in this comparatively small space. The audience sees how young and vulnerable the "boys and girls" on the line really are, especially eager first-timer Mark (Daxx Jayroe Wieser) Also evident is the camaraderie among the characters who already know each other. Choreographer Denis Jones has followed Bennett's style while intensifying it with higher kicks and more visible athleticism.
The action, as always, focuses on driven choreographer Zach (Matthew Risch, a dominating but not threatening presence) casting eight dancers for a new musical by questioning the 17 auditioners about who they are and why they dance. In larger venues, he tends to sit at the back of the house; at the MAX, he sits at a table in the midst of the audience.
The standout roles shine in unexpected ways. Diana Morales (Samantha Marisol Gershman) shows a vulnerable side underneath her assertive façade; Cassie (Emily Tyra), the one-time featured dancer wanting to start over, seems driven by her dreams as much as her desperation; and Paul (Jeff Gorti), whose wrenching monologue provides the heart of the show, hides his vulnerability as long as he can. Phil Young is a live wire as Richie, and Zeke Edmonds, in for Vincent Kempski as Al, does a notable job as a hardworking dancer and supportive husband to Kristine (Elise Kowalick).
The design team has tweaked the look of the show as well. While the minimalist esthetic remains in Jason Sherwood's scenic design, now there are two lines on the floor, both illuminated (as part of Adam Honoré's often subtle lighting design), allowing the actors to "stay in line" or perform in shadow while one or another does a solo. The mirrors are mostly an understated part of the rear wall, showcasing the performers without becoming distracting, except when they are central to the actionas in Cassie's "Music and the Mirror." Some of Sarah Cubbage's costume designs suggest the originals in different colors and fabrics; others, like Sheila's (Maria Rizzo) assertive black leotard and fishnet tights, accentuate character.
The songs by Marvin Hamlisch (music) and Edward Kleban (lyrics) are as involving and empathetic as ever, well served by the cast and the nine musicians conducted from the keyboard by Jon Kalbfleisch.